September 9, 2006

Movie Review: The Protector (Tom yum goong)

I need to go back and watch all of Ong Bak, for some reason I started it one night awhile back, got distracted, and never got back to it. Now, after seeing The Protector, I have to make sure to watch it, and soon.

Now, before going any further, I must say a big sarcastic "thank you" to Harvey "scissorhands" Weinstein. You have continued your impeccable track record with regards to your treatment of Asian cinema. Plus, to Quentin Tarantino, I hope you are aware of what has happened to the use of your name, you have always stood up to those who wish to cut films from their original presentation, and usually the use of your name in the advertising has meant that the film has been left intact. That did not happen here. As I watched The Protector I got the distinct feeling that there were sections missing. The story jumped around, characters appeared in places where they couldn't have been based on prior scenes, and it did not have any coherence. So, I just checked around for the runtime of the film, and guess what I found? The film is listed as being 109 minutes. The version I saw in the theater was in the 80 minute range. That is nearly a half an hour that has been cut. That is completely unacceptable. This begs the question, why? Why did you feel the need to cut all of this footage out? Have you even watched this bastardization? Not everyone is interested solely in the action, we need to have a coherent story as well. The film as it stands lacks so much, I can only imagine what is supposed to be there.

With that out of the way, let's take a look at what released to theaters.

The story is simple. There is a village in Thailand where the people have raised elephants for as long as they can remember. They raise them in hopes that one would be chosen to be the king's elephant. It is said that when the Thai king rode into battle, he did so on the back of an elephant, upon which he would draw his strength. Cam, played by Tony Jaa, is raised in this village, where he bonds with the elephants, and learns the ways of becoming a protector of the elephants.

One day, Cam and his father take their prize elephant and its child to a meeting with official inspectors looking for a new elephant. It turns out to be a trick, Cam's father is killed and the two elephants are stolen and taken to Sydney, Australia. Cam heads off to Sydney to retrieve the elephants and avenge the murder of his father.

Of course, once he arrives in Sydney, there is more going on that meets the eye, and more than Cam cares to know about. He is there for one reason, and one reason only, and he moves towards his goal with a singular mind and focus. To be honest, I was only able to glean a little bit of the other stuff that was going on. There were corrupt police officers, a criminal Thai outfit making a power play, a cop, who helps Cam, who is framed for a crime he didn't commit.

The story may be cut up, but there is no denying the honorable intentions of Cam. He only wishes to right a wrong that was committed. He respects the old traditions, as he is a part of them. To that end, there is a wonderful aura about Cam, you want him to succeed, you know he is doing a good thing and when you get to the climax there is actually some very fine acting from Jaa. The anguish that plays across his face is real, and his use of that to reach his goal is a sight to behold.

Now, I know that most of you are interested in the action, and you wil not be let down. I have never seen Muay Thai in action before. Now that I have, it is a brutal no-nonsense style that I would never want to be faced with. It is vastly different from, say, Jackie Chan's multiple styles, or Jet Li's wushu, or Bruce Lee's jeet kun do. It is not a flashy style of fighting, but when you see what Jaa does in this movie, you will be nothing short of floored.

There are a number of good fight sequences, of varying lengths, but there are two, in particular, that impressed me to no end. Before getting to those, I would like to mention an early fight that is inventive and fun, but a little silly to watch, mainly because it involves roller bladers attacking with fluorescent lightbulbs. Now, the first sequence to truly impress me was Cam's march up the bad guy's lair. Cam is fighting through all the thugs that come his way, andthe entire thing is done in one take. Watch as the camera follows him on his way up, I can only imagine how hard it must have been to block the sequence, making sure everyone hits their spots. I also wonder how many takes it took to get through it. The other sequence has a horde of thugs coming after Cam. I swear, I have never seen so many broken limbs in my life, it was an impressive display.

Despite the efforts of Weinstein and his cutting crew to belittle foreign cinema, I enjoyed the action in this movie, and the incredible talent of Tony Jaa. Hopefully I will get the opportunity to see the entire film, the way it was meant to be seen, with the story intact in the near future.

Bottomline. I don't want to recommend this, due to the chop job that has been committed here, but at the same time it would be a shame for action aficionados to miss the incredible action that his been put to film on the big screen. And my appreciation of Jaa and his work leads me to give this a:

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